The tobacco industry has been accused of marketing to youth over the years, and rightly so. Now the electronic cigarette market can be put in the same category. While cigarette companies must have a 21+ age to enter their sites, mandated as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, e-cigarette companies are less stringent, allowing youth easy access to their products. A group of researchers looked at “12 e-cigarette companies and their 19 brands” to see what information was required in order for users to enter their sites, and found the information required to be lacking in comparison to cigarette companies.
In order to access cigarette companies websites, users must verify they are legal age (21+) by supplying information such as name, address, date of birth, and the last four digits of their social security number to be admitted. Of the 19 e-cigarette brands, “2 had no gate, 5 stated warnings, 10 required click/checks, 1 required birthdate, and 1 required registration.” Even within a company, different brands had different requirements.
“Despite strong claims of corporate social responsibility against marketing to adolescents,” electronic cigarette companies are taking an old page from tobacco and promoting their products to adolescents before regulations are imposed. For example Altria has a corporate responsibly statement that claims it “connects with adult tobacco consumers through direct mail and websites,” but their MarkTen electronic cigarette website allows anyone in by simply clicking a button stating they are 21 years or old, with no check of their age. Altria is not alone; Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco electronic cigarette sites operate much the same way.
Unfortunately, age-verification requirements will not be required until the Food and Drug Administration has authority over e-cigarettes. Until then tobacco companies will continue to beat their corporate responsibility drum while continuing to allow adolescents in through the front door. Profits once again win over what is morally and ethically right.
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